The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84)
Farley, S. Brent, “The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84) “ in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Doctrine and Covenants, ed. Craig K. Manscill (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2004), 221–233.
S. Brent Farley was the manager of Church Educational System College Curriculum when this was published.
“When we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, we enter into a covenant with the Lord. It is the covenant of exaltation. . . . There neither is nor can be a covenant more wondrous and great.”  Thus testified Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The core of revelation focusing upon the oath and covenant of the priesthood is found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:33–48. This nucleus of information is rich with doctrine which, like the hub of a great wheel, is connected with and extends out to the circumference of the entire gospel. It is the purpose of this paper to examine that hub, or nucleus, in a verse-by-verse analysis so that we may achieve a greater and clearer understanding of this pivotal covenant that affects the eternities.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:33. “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.”
The two priesthoods are the Aaronic and Melchizedek, and obtaining means “to be ordained to.” The key word that precedes obtaining is faithful. One must live so as to be judged worthy of receiving each of these priesthoods. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “the Aaronic Priesthood is a preparatory priesthood to qualify us to make the covenant and receive the oath that attends this higher priesthood.” 
In the course of personal priesthood development, men are to magnify their callings. To what are they called? Alma repeatedly associates the word called or calling with the priesthood itself (as contrasted with particular priesthood assignments), teaching that men are “by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God” (Alma 13:6). The way to magnify that calling to priesthood authority is beautifully illustrated by the Lord as He explains why “there are many called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:34; emphasis added). One who magnifies his calling to the priesthood will understand that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” He will know that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:36, 41–42).
One whose service is characterized by those qualities is magnifying his calling to the priesthood, and he has the foundation for success for the varied priesthood tasks and offices he may hold throughout his life. He will also use these principles in his home, for, President Harold B. Lee stated, “The most important of the Lord’s work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home. . . . God will never ask any man to sacrifice his family in order to carry out his other duties in the kingdom.” 
What does it mean to magnify a calling? Elder McConkie explained: “Now, to magnify as here used means to enlarge or increase, to improve upon, to hold up to honor and dignity, to make the calling noble and respectable in the eyes of all men by performing the mission which appertains to the calling in an admirable and successful manner.” 
Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy listed ways that one magnifies a priesthood calling: “By learning one’s duty and executing it fully (see D&C 107:99–100). By giving one’s best effort in assigned fields of labor. By consecrating one’s time, talents, and means to the Lord’s work as called upon by our leaders and the whisperings of the Spirit. . . . By teaching and exemplifying truth.” 
In referring to magnifying one’s calling, President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency said: “I am persuaded that it requires at least the following three things: 1. That we obtain a knowledge of the gospel. 2. That we comply in our personal living with the standards of the gospel. 3. That we give dedicated service. 
Faithful priesthood holders are “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies” (D&C 84:33). To be sanctified is to be made clean through the power of the Holy Ghost and then to have its operative power giving guidance for life’s activities. Such influence has a positive effect upon the body. Renew is defined as something that restores to a good state, rebuilds, repairs, confirms, revives, makes fresh and vigorous, transforms, implants holy affections, etc.  It is not necessarily that the body is visibly transformed (though this could be the case at times), but the positive effects of the Spirit support and invigorate physical and mental well-being. In connection with the oath and covenant of the priesthood, the renewal of the body refers to an eternal effect as well as a mortal one. Ultimately, the one who is faithful to the oath and covenant will have the body renewed in celestial glory in the Resurrection (see D&C 88:28–29).
Doctrine and Covenants 84:34. “They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.”
Sonship denotes belonging to a family and having certain rights as a member and as an heir. We speak of becoming sons and daughters of Jesus Christ when we are converted, or born again, to the things of the Spirit. In this gospel conversion sense, becoming a son implies the acceptance of the person and principles of the one designated as the father. To become a son of Moses and Aaron, then, would imply accepting them and their principles so that we would have a relationship and as heirs, receive certain rights, including the rights of the priesthood.
Moses was called of God as the prophet to gather Israel, lead them from Egyptian bondage, and establish them as an independent and strong people (see Exodus 3:10–17). He was the prophet, the mouthpiece of the Lord to Israel; by following his inspired direction the people could obtain exaltation. Those who become sons of Moses today are those who accept the mouthpiece of the Lord who has been called to deliver modern Israel from the bondage of worldliness in order to become established as a strong and independent people and be led toward exaltation. They too participate in the gathering of Israel, the keys of which Moses committed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the latter-day restoration (see D&C 110:11).
The sons of Moses have a right to the holy priesthood, “which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years” (D&C 84:17). Moses sought diligently to prepare his people for this right to be worthy of the presence of God through the authority, ordinances, and power of the priesthood (see D&C 84:19–23). The sons of Moses today hearken to the one called of God to guide them in their preparation to behold His presence.
Aaron was a spokesman for Moses and an assistant to him, Moses having the greater calling and Aaron the lesser. The lesser, or preparatory, priesthood was named after Aaron (see D&C 84:18, 26–27). The sons of Aaron today are those who accept the preparatory, or Aaronic, priesthood and live its principles, thus proving worthy of greater blessings as they enter the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood. They learn to accept all who are called as spokesmen (those other local and General Authorities who help accomplish the Lord’s work) under the direction of the prophet. They are also willing themselves to serve as spokesmen in priesthood capacities when called to do so.
Thus, the sons of Moses and of Aaron today are faithful priesthood holders. In the course of their progress, they will become worthy temple recommend holders. They will “offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord” (D&C 84:31) by receiving their own temple endowment and performing work for the dead. “And the sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house, whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church” (D&C 84:32).
The mention of the temple is most significant, for it is through the ordinances of the Lord’s house that we prepare to achieve the goal sought by Moses for his people: to enter the Lord’s presence. Elder McConkie noted that “the greatest blessings are reserved for those who obtain ‘the fulness of the priesthood,’ meaning the fullness of the blessings of the priesthood. These blessings are found only in the temples of God.”  The oath and covenant of the priesthood includes all of the covenants made in the temple.
In similitude of the mission of Moses to gather Israel and establish them as a people, the Lord revealed a latter-day mission of the “sons of Moses”: “Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints” (D&C 84:2). The corollary between the mission of Moses in ancient Israel and the mission of the sons of Moses in modern Israel is not coincidental.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:34 specifies that “they become . . . the seed of Abraham.” The literal house of Israel all descended from Abraham, but as Paul explained, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are all children of Abraham, are they the seed. . . . But the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (Joseph Smith Translation, Romans 9:6–8). In other words, faithfulness to the principles the patriarch taught (the gospel) determines heirship and acceptance—literal descent is not enough. Abraham became a model for all Saints, eventually achieving godhood (see D&C 132:37). The blessings of the gospel are often referred to in connection with the Abrahamic covenant, which is, as explained by Elder McConkie, “that Abraham and his seed (including those adopted into his family) shall have all of the blessings of the gospel, of the priesthood, and of eternal life,”  including eternal increase. The Lord revealed, “This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham,” and said that we should “go . . . therefore, and do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:31–32).
Elder McConkie noted that “what we say for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we say also for Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, the wives . . . who with them were true and faithful in all things,”  for, as President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “the Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons.” 
In order to enjoy the full blessings of the oath and covenant of the priesthood, a man must marry for time and eternity in the house of the Lord (see D&C 131:1–3). Elder McConkie explained that “this covenant, made when the priesthood is received, is renewed when the recipient enters the order of eternal marriage.”  Further, “when he is married in the temple for time and for all eternity, each worthy member of the Church enters personally into the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. This is the occasion when the promises of eternal increase are made, and it is then specified that those who keep the covenants made there shall be inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 
Those taking the covenant of the priesthood are included in “the church and kingdom, . . . of God” (D&C 84:34). They are members of “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). Their king is the Savior, and the church and kingdom upon the earth is a type for the heavenly kingdom yet to be obtained.
Elder Harold B. Lee referred to “the church and kingdom of God” as “the church of the firstborn.”  Not all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are members of the Church of the Firstborn, however, for as Elder McConkie explained, “the Church of the Firstborn is made up of . . . those who are destined to be joint-heirs with Christ in receiving all that the Father hath.”  Hence, that church membership includes those who are now proving or who will in the future prove themselves worthy of that exalted society.
Those upon earth who are living worthy of such future attainment are also called “the elect of God” (D&C 84:34). Elder McConkie defined these as “the portion of church members who are striving with all their hearts to keep the fulness of the gospel law in this life so that they can become inheritors of the fulness of gospel rewards in the life to come.
“As far as the male sex is concerned, they are the ones, the Lord says, who have the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon them and who thereafter magnify their callings and are sanctified by the Spirit.” 
Those who receive the Lord’s priesthood and His servants are accepting both the Lord and the Father who sent Him (see D&C 84:35–37), for the Father and Son are one in purpose and mission. Such unity was the Savior’s desire when He prayed: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. . . . Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me” (John 17:11, 24). The oath and covenant of the priesthood is the means for the fulfillment of that prayer.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:38. “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.’
Herein is the fulfillment of heirship, “Wherefore, all things are theirs. . . . These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. . . . They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; . . . and he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:59, 62, 94–95).
Elder Asay said of this promise of heirship, “Few of us, I suppose, can comprehend all that this promise means. Even though we know that it includes eternal life, or the inheritance of exaltation, still it is so great and so wonderful that it defies proper explanation.”  Of this the scripture testifies, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Two key words mentioned in the oath and covenant serve as a foreshadowing of this great blessing of eternal life: calling (D&C 84:33) and elect (D&C 84:34). Elder McConkie testified that “brethren whose calling and election is made sure always hold the holy Melchizedek Priesthood. Without this delegation of power and authority they cannot be sealed up unto eternal life.”  President Romney also gave witness that “we talk about making our callings and elections sure. The only way we can do this is to get the priesthood and magnify it.” 
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had the promise of eternal life confirmed to them by an oath of the Lord, but that promise or oath was no assurance to them of their salvation. But they could, by walking in the footsteps and continuing in the faith of their fathers, obtain for themselves an oath for confirmation that they were meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.
“If the saints in the days of the Apostles were privileged to take the saints for example and lay hold of the same promises and attain to the same exalted privileges of knowing that their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life and that they were sealed there as a perpetual memorial before the face of the Most High, will not the same faith bring the same assurance of eternal life and that in the same manner to the children of men now in this age of the world?” 
Thus, those priesthood holders accounted as the seed of Abraham may receive the same blessings as their faithful forebears.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:39–40. “And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.”
Who makes the oath? What is the oath? Who makes the covenant, and what are the terms?
President Romney defined an oath as “a sworn attestation to the inviolability of the promises in the agreement.”  President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that “to swear with an oath is the most solemn and binding form of speech known to the human tongue.”  In the oath and covenant of the priesthood, it is the Father who makes the oath. Elder McConkie taught that the oath is “that everyone who keeps the covenant made in connection with the Melchizedek Priesthood shall inherit, receive, and possess all things in his everlasting kingdom, and shall be a joint-heir with that Lord who is his Only Begotten. . . . God swore with an oath that Christ would be exalted, and he swears anew, at the time each of us receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, that we will have a like exaltation if we are true and faithful in all things.”  This oath is as eternal as the priesthood, and always accompanies it, signifying its validity in providing for the exaltation of God’s faithful children.
President Romney explained that “a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. . . . In the covenant of the priesthood the parties are the Father and the receiver of the priesthood.”  For the preparatory Aaronic Priesthood, Elder McConkie stated,
“Those who receive the Aaronic Priesthood covenant and promise to magnify their callings, to serve in the ministry of the Master, to forsake the world, and to live as becometh Saints. In return, the Lord covenants and promises to enlarge the standing and station of all who keep their Aaronic covenant. He promises to give them the Melchizedek Priesthood, out of which eternal life comes. [The oath from God accompanies the Melchizedek Priesthood.] Those who receive the Melchizedek Priesthood covenant and promise, before God and angels, to magnify their callings, to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44), to marry for time and all eternity in the patriarchal order, and to live and serve as the Lord Jesus did in his life and ministry.” 
Elder Asay noted that God’s covenant to faithful priesthood holders includes the following promises: “Promise 1: We Will Be Sanctified by the Spirit. . . . Promise 2: We Will Be Numbered with the Elect of God. . . . Promise 3: We Will Be Given All That God Has.”  Elder McConkie explained that to be given all that God has includes exaltation and godhood and admittance to “his eternal patriarchal order, an order that prevails in the highest heaven of the celestial world, an order that assures its members of eternal increase, or in other words of spirit children in the resurrection. (See D&C 131:1–4).” 
Doctrine and Covenants 84:41. “But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.” This is a solemn declaration. According to Elder McConkie, “this has never been interpreted by the Brethren to mean that those who forsake their priesthood duties, altogether turning therefrom, shall be sons of perdition; rather, the meaning seems to be that they shall be denied the exaltation that otherwise might have been theirs.” 
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that there is a chance to repent if a man has not altogether turned from the priesthood. If he does altogether turn from it, however, there is no forgiveness. “That does not mean that man is going to become a son of perdition, but the meaning is that he will never again have the opportunity of exercising the priesthood and reaching exaltation. That is where his forgiveness ends. He will not again have the priesthood conferred upon him, because he has trampled it under his feet; but as far as other things are concerned, he may be forgiven.” 
Doctrine and Covenants 84:42. “And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood.”
As the priesthood is the only source and channel through which exaltation may be obtained from the Lord, it follows that those who avoid it also avoid their only chance for eternal happiness in the celestial kingdom.
“And even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you” (D&C 84:42). Worthy priesthood holders have the right to the ministering of angels (see D&C 13), which may come as direct visitations or as communications via the Holy Ghost, for “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 32:3; see also 1 Nephi 17:45). Worthy priesthood holders also have the rights of fellowship and communion “with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn” (D&C 107:19), meaning those faithful members whose names “are written in heaven”(Hebrews 12:23), referring to Saints on both sides of the veil.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:43. “And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.”
This verse is a key verse within the oath and covenant of the priesthood. It leads one to an understanding of how to obtain the fulness of the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:44. “For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”
The words of eternal life have God as their source; how one receives these words is next explained in a chain of logic.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:45. “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
Doctrine and Covenants 84:46. “And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.”
Elder McConkie explained that the Light of Christ “is the instrumentality and agency by which Deity keeps in touch and communes with all his children, both the righteous and the wicked. It has an edifying, enlightening, and uplifting influence on men. One of its manifestations is called conscience, through which all men know right from wrong.
“It is the means by which the Lord invites and entices all men to improve their lot and to come unto him and receive his gospel.” 
Doctrine and Covenants 84:47. “And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.”
Elder McConkie explained: “By following the light of Christ, men are led to the gospel covenant, to the baptismal covenant, to the church and kingdom. There they receive the Holy Ghost.”  Those who are sensitive to the Holy Ghost continue to learn the words of God and direct their lives according to His counsel. Faithful brethren are led by this process to the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:48. “And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you.”
This is the apex, the grandest key in understanding the oath and covenant of the priesthood: a man who holds and honors the Melchizedek Priesthood will be taught of that holy covenant by revelation from God.
Elder McConkie testified: “This doctrine, this doctrine of the Priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. It is not set forth in the sermons and teachings of the prophets and Apostles, except in small measure.
“The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation. It comes, line upon line and precept upon precept, by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who love and serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength.” 
In revealing the proper use of the priesthood, the Lord directed: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45; emphasis added). By this means, one progresses within the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Sufficient scriptural information is given to place a brother upon the pathway of exaltation, but the printed word in the standard works is not the culmination point. It is an aid in helping one to progress to the point where revelation is the key in magnifying a calling and in learning more about the oath and covenant of the priesthood. And one may progress through this medium to a certain point where he is considered to have received sufficient light and knowledge from God that to turn away would incur the awful penalty of no forgiveness (see D&C 84:41). This opens the very real possibility that some might indeed suffer the fate of sons of perdition, having progressed to such a degree in tutelage from God that to turn away then would condemn them to that eternal fate.
The concept of worthiness to be directed by God through personal revelation also relates to Joseph Smith’s teaching regarding one’s knowing that his calling and election is sure. Elder Romney testified: “To do this one must receive a divine witness that he will inherit eternal life.”  Alma recorded a similar witness from God: “And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me” (Alma 7:16).
Another illustration is the following revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father” (D&C 132:49).  As the Lord confirmed the priesthood by His own voice out of the heavens to His servants (see D&C 84:42), so may He confirm the promise of eternal life, whether in this life or the next.
The fulfillment of that promise of eternal life is the grand purpose of the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Every worthy priesthood holder may qualify if he will keep the covenants of the priesthood. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It is perfectly clear that there are no more glorious promises that have or could be made than those that came to us when we accepted the privilege and assumed the responsibility of holding the holy priesthood and of standing as ministers of Christ.”  Herein is brought to pass the noblest goal of existence, according to Moses 1:39, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
 Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 312–13.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, October 1970, 92.
 Harold B. Lee, as cited in Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord: Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide, 1978–79 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 127.
 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 481–82.
 Carlos E. Asay, in Conference Report, October 1985, 57.
 Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, October 1980, 64.
 See American Dictionary of the English Language (San Francisco: The Foundation for American Christian Education, 1985); s.v. “renew.”
 McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 482.
 McConkie, New Witness, 505.
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Mothers in Israel and Daughters of Zion,” New Era, May 1978, 37.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, April 1970, 59.
 McConkie, New Witness, 313.
 McConkie, New Witness, 508.
 Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, April 1950, 99.
 McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 139.
 McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 217.
 Asay, in Conference Report, October 1985, 59.
 Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 587.
 Romney, in Conference Report, April 1974, 115.
 Joseph Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984), 300; spelling and punctuation standardized.
 Romney, in Conference Report, April 1962, 17.
 Smith, in Conference Report, October 1970, 92.
 Bruce R. McConkie, in Conference Report, April 1982, 49.
 Romney, in Conference Report, April 1962, 17.
 McConkie, in Conference Report, April 1982, 49.
 Asay, in Conference Report, October 1985, 58–59.
 McConkie, in Conference Report, April 1982, 49.
 McConkie, New Witness, 232.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:141–42.
 McConkie, New Witness, 259.
 McConkie, New Witness, 260.
 McConkie, in Conference Report, April 1982, 47.
 Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, October 1965, 20.
 Elder Bruce R. McConkie cited this as a classic example for our day of one who was sealed up unto eternal life (see Doctrinal New Testament Commentary [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1981], 3:348).
 Smith, in Conference Report, October 1970, 92.